A discussion on why don’t evangelical Christians speak about gluttony? Why be subjective about what is sinful? And one person’s journey with weight loss surgery
“Do not join those who drink too much wine, or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags”
“Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign that something is eating us”
Peter De Vries
This is going to be a deeply personal post for me. And in this post I would like to dive into a question and issue I have only heard addressed twice in Evangelical Christianity. This is going to be more personal because this issue has touched my life and I had to go through a lot in learning how to deal with it. First let’s explore some facts about obesity from the Center of Disease Control.
Obesity is common, serious and costly
- More than one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese. [Read abstract Journal of American Medicine (JAMA)]
- Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. [Read guidelines]
- The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. [Read summary]
Then there are these statistics from the National Institute of Health
- More than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese.
- More than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese.
- More than 1 in 20 adults are considered to have extreme obesity.
- About one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese.
- More than 1 in 6 children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be obese.
Overweight and obesity are risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other health problems such as those listed below.
- type 2 diabetes
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (excess fat and inflammation in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol)
- osteoarthritis (a health problem causing pain, swelling, and stiffness in one or more joints)
- some types of cancer: breast, colon, endometrial (related to the uterine lining), and kidney
There is no single cause of all overweight and obesity. There is no single approach that can help prevent or treat overweight and obesity. Treatment may include a mix of behavioral treatment, diet, exercise, and sometimes weight-loss drugs. In some cases of extreme obesity, weight-loss surgery may be an option.1
Those statistics above are but the beginning of the problem. Here’s some facts about childhood obesity, and a map of the obesity epidemic with the State of Mississippi leading the pack. The problem of childhood obesity has become so severe that it has affected the United States’ military in its ability to recruit.
I write all this to give you a glimpse of a serious problem on the national landscape, and its also a serious problem in evangelical churches. That said, I am stunned that in my time as an evangelical (and I still consider myself to be one BTW…) I’ve heard no preaching, no teaching, really nothing about the sin of gluttony. Let’s step back for a second (especially as a man) and reflect on all the times I heard sex, pornography, and masturbation discussed in men’s retreats, Cru, or men’s times. From 2000 until 2008 there wasn’t a time where it wasn’t hammered to death. I remember one time at a Crusade Christmas Conference in Minneapolis called TCX where they announced the guy’s time and someone I knew from Crusade at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee said, “Great we’re going to hear about sex, porn, and jerking off again…” and as he said that he rolled his eyes. So whereas sex is hammered to death nothing is really said about gluttony. In the 10 years I heard expository preaching, pastoral teaching, etc… I only heard gluttony discussed once from the pulpit. It came from a Pastor at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee named Brian Sonderman. And he addressed the issue of gluttony in 2004 when Hardee’s rolled out a new hamburger called the Monster Thickburger that had 1,420 calories. Yes you read that right! I remember sitting there as I heard this being preached and thinking to myself, “Why haven’t I heard this talked about before?”
My Journey Forward with Weight Loss Surgery
The reason why this post is so difficult to write is because I have had to face my struggles with obesity and being overweight. I’m honestly embarrassed to write of how much I weighed as recently as 7 months ago. When I played football in high school I towered at 6’2″ and weighed 290 lbs. I was an offensive tackle. I was the biggest guy on my football team. Over the next 15 years I slowly put on another 140 lbs. And I did this as I often went to the gym, swam, and work out; but due to a number of factors the weight kept coming on over time. When I had my medical crisis in July 2012 one of the doctors suggested that I pursue weight loss surgery. I blew him off thinking, “I can lose the weight myself…” That’s just what I thought. However, when the infection came back on my leg I learned that I was at risk for regular subsequent infections and that I ran the risk of losing my lower right leg. Why? I ran the risk of scarring and my leg was having problems healing due to being overweight. That tore me apart and put me in a difficult position. What should I do? As I looked at the options the health benefits of weight loss surgery included the following:
- I could save my right leg.
- I could prevent diabetes from likely occurring.
- I could prevent high blood pressure from occurring.
- I could prolong my life.
- I could prevent future hospitalizations and infections.
- Stopping re-occurring hospitalizations due to my infected leg could help improve my finances in the long run and free up money which would help me pay off other bills faster.
- It could be a do over in many ways.
It was during this time I realized I had to do something. To be this young and run the risk of losing my leg just seemed crazy. I started to listen carefully to the doctor who encouraged me to do this surgery. Plus I also had gotten to know the Parsons who are established in the medical profession in Raleigh. Both Bill and Dee who called me up from time to time and also encouraged me to do surgery. Dee would lay out the options before me and encourage me to take that step. It was hard, this was not an easy decision. It wasn’t made overnight. I also wondered…what would other people think? What would my parents think? My family and sisters? What would co-workers think? What would friends and acquaintances think? In wrestling with all this I looked at the options. There was gastric bypass or the gastric sleeve. In looking into the bypass I thought it too extreme, and that it re-wired too much of my plumbing. In the gastric sleeve they would remove 85% of my stomach and it would be permanent. It couldn’t be reversed like the gastric sleeve. When I made a decision and decided to move forward I could not believe what was in store for me. From January 1 to July 15 there was a battery of medical tests and clearances I had to go through. I needed to be cleared by a cardiologist, family practice doctor, gastroenterologist, endoscopy, and a full blown psychological evaluation. Why the psychological evaluation? They wanted to screen me out for addictive problems, eating disorders, bad habits, family mental health issues, etc…There are people who undergo bariatric surgery who swap an addiction for food for an addiction to to alcohol. Its frightening…it’s called transfer addiction. You can read about the risks of alcoholism and gastric bypass here.
Dee Parsons believed so firmly that I should do this that she wanted to come up to the Washington, D.C. area for a couple of days to support and help out. About two or three weeks before surgery I drove down to Raleigh and met with the Parsons to have a series of discussions about this issue. With a surgery date looming I wanted to have some long, hard talks and see if I should carry though with this surgical procedure. After all the discussions that weekend I came away more convinced that I needed to follow through. As I drove back to DC from Raleigh I was now at peace with the decision. The day before the surgery, July 14 Dee came to my condo and we hugged. As a nurse and part of the medical establishment in Raleigh she looked over all the medicines I was supposed to take and reviewed the final lab work. In her assessment I was in the early stages of eventually becoming pre-diabetic. I also had started to develop a fatty liver and I ran the risk of scarring my liver. As she explained to me weight loss surgery would prevent these problems from developing and reverse the effects. A week prior to July 15 I had started a liquid diet in preparation for the surgery and was on whey protein shakes. That night of July 14 I remember crawling into bed and I posted on Facebook the following, “Nervous about tomorrow. Please God if you hear this help me get through tomorrow’s surgery” On July 15 Dee drove me and my sister to the hospital. As I was being checked in I was so nervous. The surgery if I remember correctly was scheduled for 10:00. I was dressed, had the IV’s inserted and was waiting for the surgery in pre-operation. During that time I posted the following on Facebook, “awaiting surgery…in pre-op. My stomach (which will be greatly reduced) is in knots. Man I am nervous. While waiting they administered a medicine to help reduce stomach acid production. Then the physician who was going to perform the surgery came by and visited. He remarked as to how I was taking one of the best steps of my life. My sister and my East Coast Mom (Dee Parsons) sat nearby. As they were starting to wheel me away Dee prayed with me for Jesus to help me through the surgery.
I was next laying down on the operating room table, with a feeling of ease and comfort as they started to administer the anesthetic. I was still scared and the room was cold. The anesthesiologist told me that I would wake up soon in another room. On July 15 they removed 85% of my stomach. The surgery was harder and more difficult than they thought and lasted nearly three hours. In coming out of it I remember eventually seeing my sister and Dee as well. For the next several weeks I was on a strict liquid diet of broths, soups, jello and whey protein shakes. No solids as my stomach began to heal from the procedure. Even my pills had to crushed during this time. This was far from being easy. They had prescribed some strong pain killers and I refused to take them, my concern was of accidentally getting addicted. During this time I craved steak, and other food. It was especially hard as I couldn’t eat it. Sometimes at night I dreamed of past commercials or watched Youtube parodies. But as I was recovering from the surgical procedure over the next few weeks I spent a lot of time reflecting on this one thought: Why don’t evangelicals speak about the sin of obesity or gluttony? They are largely silent and mostly say nothing. As I contemplate in what I had to undergo in order to deal with gluttony and obesity this question weighs on me deeply today.
So what has happened since July 15, 2014? Lots!! I’ve remained on a strict diet. After several weeks I had my first solid meal be a steak in historic downtown Leesburg, Virginia. The weight started to come off. My shirt size has changed from a 3XL to a 2XL in time. My pants have dropped several sizes. Day by day I felt like I was starting to reclaim my life. I was able to climb stairs again. I could walk with much more ease. I can do things that I haven’t been able to do in years. I’ve embraced the gym and exercise. I’m learning how to weight lift and I’m swimming about 4 times a week. The joke amongst my friends? I want to be like Michael Phelps!! I wish you could personally witness the reactions from people. My new nickname at work is “Slim”. I’ve had people from the cashier in the checkout in a cafeteria to a condo manager ask, “What happened? Have you lost weight?” My friends have been amazed and told me as to how what I did was brave and courageous. For the most part I largely shun the elevator and escalator and have the privilege of walking up 5 flights of stairs. My most popular post on Facebook? Was when I went public and announced how I had lost 100 lbs a couple of months back. I’m still on top of things, and this has been far from easy. I’m sick of protein shakes, and I exercise at times when I don’t want to. There has been some side effects which I am still working through with doctors. As of today I am down about 138 lbs, and only 15 lbs away from my high school football weight. Health wise things have reversed themself. The leg infections cleared up and blood pressure dropped substantially. My fatty liver has reversed itself and my Primary Care Doctor has told me that I likely avoided heart disease and diabetes by taking this course of action. Last month Dee Parsons asked me to drive to Raleigh to meet with her Bible study, and I did so. 262 miles is the longest I have driven for a Bible study! When I was in her drive way she saw me for the first time since July 15. Her reaction when she saw me, “Oh My Gosh…who are you?!? Look at you?!? I don’t even know you?!?” Yes I changed that much. When I heard Dee say that I could have collapsed in her drive way on my knees and just weep in joy. I was that happy.
Evangelicals And Gluttony
So why do I write and share all this personal information? It’s because I want to know…Why don’t evangelicals speak about gluttony? I think I made my personal case as to how gluttony is an issue in my life. In the beginning I mentioned Brian Sonderman of Elmbrook Church preaching on gluttony. There is one other person that I know of who spoke to me at length about gluttony. He was a mission team leader from McLean Bible in 2007 and today he lives in Seattle. He led me and several other people on a mission trip to Southall, London. He has also struggled with obesity and spoke with me at length about it and how he has dealt with the issue. Plus there is also this article from a Neo-Calvinist perspective on gluttony. I’ve read this a couple of times and am still chewing on it.
There are a number of questions that I have for evangelicalism to answer. These are the reasons why I would think evangelicals would care about gluttony.
- Can you send someone to Africa as a missionary if they are morbidly obese, have high blood pressure, diabetes, and sleep apnea?
- Can you have an obese person be an effective youth pastor if he can’t participate in sports activities if they can’t move around very much due to being very overweight?
- Can you send someone into the US Military’s Chaplain program if they are obese? Would the military deploy an obese chaplain into harm’s way to serve the souls of troops in Iraq, and Afghanistan?
- Can an obese pastor effectively lead a congregation if they are struggling with weight? Will their messages carry weight (pun intended) if this sin is so obvious?
Now there is another point I want to make and its this…does the modern evangelical church not preach about gluttony because in the end its a sin that they embrace and personally benefit from? For example since there is a movement in modern evangelicalism toward the “mega church” model is that a form of spiritual gluttony? Why do I say this? Well in many mega churches people are falling through the cracks. They don’t have a pastor involved in their life. The church is failing to serve their needs and spiritually teach them. In short many mega churches can’t be a good steward of what they have. Against this many churches are pursuing growth for the sake of growth, and I’d suggest that this is nothing but a spiritual form of gluttony. Is that the reason why many churches don’t teach on gluttony? It’s just a question…
In closing I would like to leave you with this video. I watch this regularly. Having lost 138 lbs my ultimate goal is to run a race. Anyone from any of the churches I will write about want to support me that’s cool! That is one of my plans and dreams. In that sense this video deeply encourages me in that effort. If you’re looking for me…I’ll be at the gym.